Neoromanticism in music is a return (at any of several points in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries) to the emotional expression associated with nineteenth-century Romanticism. Since the mid-1970s the term has come to be identified with neoconservative postmodernism, especially in Germany, Austria, and the United States, with composers such as Wolfgang Rihm and George Rochberg. Currently active US-based composers widely described as neoromantic include David Del Tredici and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (Pasler 2001).
Neoromanticism was a term that originated in literary theory in the early 19th century to distinguish later kinds of romanticism from earlier manifestations. In music, it was first used by Richard Wagner in his polemical 1851 article "Oper und Drama", as a disparaging term for the French romanticism of Hector Berlioz and Giacomo Meyerbeer from 1830 onwards, which he regarded as a degenerated form of true romanticism. Ironically, the word came to be used by historians of ideas to refer to music from 1850 onwards, and to the work of Wagner in particular. The designation "neo" was used to acknowledge the fact that music of the second half of the 19th century remained in a romantic mode in an unromantic age, dominated by positivism, when literature and painting had moved on to realism and impressionism (Dahlhaus 1979, 98–99). In the twentieth century, composers such as John Adams have been described as neoromantics (Boone 1983).
According to Daniel Albright,
In the late twentieth century, the term Neoromanticism came to suggest a music that imitated the high emotional saturation of the music of (for example) Schumann [ Romanticism ], but in the 1920s it meant a subdued and modest sort of emotionalism, in which the excessive gestures of the Expressionists were boiled down into some solid residue of stable feeling. (Albright 2004, 278–80)
Thus, in Albright's view, neoromanticism in the 1920s was not a return to romanticism but, on the contrary, a tempering of an overheated post-romanticism. See: Romantic music and Neoclassicism (music).
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